To blog or not to blog....

A compilation of the thoughts in my brain, the questions I have and the journey of life. Not meant to educate, but merely to entertain and (hopefully) initiate some good discussion. Comments are welcome...come join the conversation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The plan (follow up to sharing expectations)

After days of agonizing over this "parenting thing", I'm feeling a sense of calm and control in how I process the situation.  Almost immediately after my last post, I started changing my own language towards M & S.  Saying things like "I expect" before telling them something (as in "I expect those dishes will be cleared by the time I count to 10" instead of "clear your dishes").  That has made a difference. 

I've also explained to them some "non-negotiables", like lying.  So, when I caught S in a lie Monday, I made it very clear that I "expected" her to tell me the truth and that lying was not going to be tolerated by either J or I.  I also expressed that I would almost always be more mad if she lied to me than whatever it was that she wasn't being truthful about.  On Tuesday, she lied again so I reinforced the lesson and said "I've talked to you about this two times.  If it happens again, you are losing something from your room and not getting it back".  Wednesday rolls around and low and behold, there is a lie.  So, I take a handful of shells from her dresser and reiterate why I'm taking them.   Haven't given them back and haven't been lied to since.  Mind you, these are not big lies...they're the "have you brushed your teeth or made your bed" variety, but a lie is a lie. 

The best development though came last night when J and I sat down for a "parenting brainstorming session" and I think we really identified some things that we can address.  We have a list of "rules", both for us and for the girls and agreed how important it is to provide a unified front, defend each other and have consistent expectations for the girls.    We were on the same page and both committed to making the changes.

So, I've written out our game plan and we're going to mull it over for a few days before presenting it to the girls in our first "family meeting".  It feels really good to have a plan (shocker for me...the planner) and my hope is that if we can get these "building blocks" into place when they're young, we'll at least stand a chance during the tween and teen years.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Expectations...share them or face the consequences.

Sometimes, reality smacks you in the face and it can be quite painful. 

After almost 6 years of having a child on this earth, I have come to the realization that having a child is NOT the same thing as parenting.  The definitions are pretty similar, but it's really starting to feel like they are world's apart.  Don't get me wrong, having a child by birth or adoption, providing for their needs and dealing with the ups and downs of having a baby is a major challenge.  Sometimes, it's downright impossible (late night feedings, no sleep, the worry if they've eaten enough, reaching milestones etc).  But, I've come to see, in light of some recent developments, that all of that was the "easy stuff" compared to the uncharted waters we find ourselves in now. 

We recently went camping with some friends and while I'm not usually one to play the "let's compare kids" game, a few glaring differences between our girls and the other children were crystal clear to us. Before I launch into the not so great stuff, we do still feel and know that they are both sweet, funny and wonderful girls. We both love them more than anything in world and realize that with a lot of hard work, this situation can be turned around.  But, our kids (S, in particular) talk back way too often, feel as though they are above the rules and/or don't need to listen to us, are often disrespectful and generally don't have any defined boundaries/expectations in terms of what we expect from them in terms of behavior/actions.   I think we've both been stuck in that "providing basic needs" stage and it's high time we caught up to the reality of our situation.

When S proceeded to have a massive meltdown late into the trip (you know the kind..the ones that suck all of the life out of you just trying to stay calm in the face of the craziness), we found ourselves in a really tricky situation.  She was clearly exhausted (none of us had slept well the night before) and reached the point of no return pretty quickly into what started as a fairly minor tantrum.  She wanted to be carried and J refused because she's perfectly capable of walking.  When given the choice to walk herself or be taken home because of her behavior, she was unable to make a decision within the period of time we gave her and she was put in the car...getting more and more out of control and working herself up to a point where she was hyperventilating and thought she was going to be sick.  It was an ugly few minutes.  Once calmed, we sent her to the tent to rest while we tried to make a decision of what to do. 

It was then that I realized that our children act the way they do because we've really never told them how we expect them to act.  We have expectations in our head of what we want our family to look like, but I'm pretty sure we've done a poor job communicating these expectations to our children.  It's no wonder they constantly "disappoint us" to the point that we are angry with them for things that they didn't know we wanted differently in the first place. 

The irony of my realization...just two days ago, S came downstairs demanding oatmeal in bed for her breakfast.  When I refused, she lost it and proceeded to have a meltdown that lasted almost an hour.  When I could finally talk to her, it turned out that she had this whole "special day" for herself planned which included breakfast in bed, a play date and doing something at home.  Problem was, she didn't share this with anyone and when I failed to provide her something that I didn't know she thought was important, she got mad (and rightfully so, even though oatmeal in bed still isn't going to happen). 

It's exactly the same thing we've been doing to them.  Not sharing the expectations but still getting irrationally mad when they're not met.

Crazy, right?

So, we're back to the drawing board and devising rules/boundaries and expectations that we'll share with them over the next few weeks. We're taking a look at how we work as a parenting team and realizing that our kids only get one childhood...while it's not our job to live it for them, we both feel that if we have it in our power to make it a good one, that should be our focus.   I'm not talking material goods or expensive trips.  I'm talking how they feel, the experiences we have together and the way we are when it's the four of us.  It's like we need a team building seminar geared towards little kids and their perplexed parents.   

If you're reading this and have any words of wisdom based on your own child-rearing experiences, I'd love to hear them.  This really is one of those times when you wish kids came with manuals at birth.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bait and Switch?

Friends-I had to share with you an experience I had this week at the Gap.  I'm a long time Gap (and their affiliated brands) customer and have never had a problem with any of their brands before this. 

Please understand that I am not advocating that you feel the same way I do, take the same actions that I will or "boycott" Gap and their affiliates.   I  feel this strongly because of my background in customer service and realize fully that not everyone would be as annoyed as I am about what transpired. 

I found a promotion online that Gap was offering a "Free Pair of Black Pants" (from their new line).  The promotion was valid August 14-22nd and the only fine print stated that the offer was only available in stores (not online or at the outlets) during that time period. I took the coupon, along with M&S, to the Gap store at Marketplace Mall on the 18th.  After trying on a few pairs and selecting one that I really liked, I brought the pants and the coupon/promotion to the counter only to be told that "this offer was only available to the first 50 people that redeemed it"  BUT "if you want to open a Gap credit card, then you can get them and any other items for 40% off".    If you've ever brought to small children to a mall only to be told that you couldn't have the thing that you set out to have, you can understand my frustration at this point. 

I left the Gap, continued my shopping in the mall and then went home....all the time remembering my childhood "hero" David Horowitz.  David is a consumer advocate who's catch phrase was "Don't let anybody rip you off".  I loved his show "Fight Back with David Horowitz" and even met him at the LA airport.  Not your average childhood hero, but I loved him and his work nonetheless.  More information can be found about David and his work at Fightback.

With David's mantra in my head, I sat down to write an email to Gap Customer service. This is what I wrote:

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been a loyal Gap customer since the 1980’s and am writing today to express my displeasure over your recent “Free Pair of Premium Black Pants” promotion. I came across the coupon online for the free pair of pants and took it to the Gap store at the Marketplace Mall in Rochester, NY on Wednesday, August 18, 2010, which was within the period listed. After selecting the pair of that I wanted, I brought the pants and the coupon to the counter only to be told that the promotion was only available to the first 50 people that used the coupon but that if I applied for a Gap credit card, I could get 40% off. This information is not listed anywhere on the coupon or your website and I found it to be incredibly deceptive and remarkably similar to a bait and switch fraud. I left without getting the pants OR taking the time to look around the store for other items since I felt that the promotion might have been invalid to begin with as an attempt to lure people into the store with the promise of a free item only to be told that, coincidentally, it was no longer available.

I strongly disagree with your non-disclosure of this very important detail. I brought two small children to the mall in search of these pants and was very upset that it was a trip made in vain.

I look forward to your response.

Their response (in part) back to me was less than wonderful....

Thank you for sharing your comments about the Black Magic Pants event.

Our marketing and promotions departments try to create contests and promotions that add fun to your Gap shopping experience, and we regret disappointing you. Please be assured that we have shared your feedback with the appropriate individuals within our company so they can keep your feedback in mind when they plan the next promotion.

Please know that there were two special offers that surrounded our new Black Pants. If you were emailed directly by us with a coupon offer that stated it was valid for a period of time, you may still be eligible for the offer. However, if you were sent an offer from a third party you may not have been eligible for the offer that was already used by another customer. We searched our records and are not showing that your email is registered with us.

If the offer that you received was about particular stores, this offer was valid for one day only, in select stores, for the first 50 customers in the store.

We appreciate your business and look forward to shopping with you again soon.

**I have subsequently written back to them stating my displeasure of this response and even attached copies of the coupon in question that I attempted to use. 

Now, while it would have been nice to get that free pair of pants, it's gone beyond that for me at this point.  I appreciate that Gap (or any company) is free to run promotions however they choose and that they are under no obligation to even offer promotions like this.  There are very few material things that come for free.  What I object to is this...they offered this promotion without disclosing all of the elements of it on either the promotion itself or their website.  I feel as if they "lured" me into the store with the promise of the pants (i.e. the "bait") and when I attempted to redeem the offer, they "switched" the availability of the offer once I was in the store.  The cashier made a show of checking online to see if the promotion was still valid, but part of me can't help but wonder if the promotion was ever valid to begin with.  I also object to the response of the customer service agent who chalked up the validity of the offer I presented to whether or not my email was on file with their company.

For me, I am unsure whether or not I will continue to shop at Gap.  Will the loss of my business make a difference to their bottom line..probably not.  Will it make me feel better?  We'll see. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Disproving the carrot sticks and rice cakes myth

I'm a recipe cook, not a "make it up as I go" kind of cook, and I think that following a recipe gives me a weird sense of pleasure (especially when the meal comes out as planned instead of a burning, smelly hunk of yuck).  There is something about putting together a series of pre-measured ingredients to make a finished product that speaks to the control freak/planner/organizer in me.   I love measuring cups, measuring spoons...all little pieces of the puzzle that if I use them right, I'll almost always get something I'm happy with.  A recipe is like a road map to culinary happiness and I love maps.  And plans. 

Given my weight loss journey over the years as I described in The emotional side of weight loss,  I've come to love the process of cooking healthy and seeking out new recipes that help me do that.   I love the ability to make something that tastes "bad for you", but really isn't.  I love the look of surprise on J's face when I tell him that the very thing he's eating (and enjoying) comes from a WW recipe.  I love being able to eat good food and still achieve my goals (further disproving the age old adage that weight loss is about carrot sticks and rice cakes).  And I love to research things.  When I first started cooking, the Internet was still in it's "infancy" stages (okay, maybe it was a toddler b/c I'm not "that old" contrary to S's belief) and the resources for cooking healthy were few and far between.  Today, it's a veritable wonderland of resources and I've made some of my best meals from recipes found on sites/blogs.  But, while some foods have been winners, some have been "not well received in my house" (which I think is a kinder, gentler way of saying "losers"), here are just a few of the sites where I've gotten inspiration:

Weight watchers friendly sites:

The creative people on these blogs/sites make it easier for us "non-creative cooks" to prepare and enjoy great tasting food and I thank them!

And one site that must be mentioned even though it's not a WW site.  The recipes on here are just too good not to mention it.  Plus, it uses a slow cooker which is my favorite way to cook because it means I'm not scrambling at 6pm with cranky kids to get food on the table.  I've found that many of the recipes can be modified to make them WW friendly, so that gets a thumbs up from me. :-)

My parenting perspective

The Strong Museum of Play is one of those great Rochester treasurers for kids.  Filled with child friendly exhibits, the National Toy Hall of Fame and hours of entertainment for kids of many ages, we've certainly taken advantage of our membership there over the past few years.  

This post however, isn't about the merits of Strong.  It's more about the observations I made while sitting in the midst of two exhibits while M&S played happily. One caveat...I know for certain I am not a "perfect parent". I have made plenty of mistakes and almost all of the behaviors I witnessed today, I'm pretty sure I displayed at some point or another in the past 6 years. I very strongly believe that parents should not be judged for their parenting style as each child is different and there really are no "one size fits all" solutions to child rearing.

As I've mentioned here, M is 3.5 and S is 5.5...not exactly babies that need my constant supervision.   Within the confines of a "safe" environment (i.e. the exhibits at Strong), I feel like as long as I know where they are, I no longer need to hover around them and interject myself into their play.  Their safety is my prime concern and I feel that they can explore and learn on their own without my constant "hey, look at this" or "why don't you.......".  When they were younger, I'm sure I did just that, but today I was able to sit back and reflect while watching other parents hover, interject and essentially shape the child's experience at the Museum of Play instead of allowing them to venture off within eye sight to discover what there was for them, THE CHILD, to discover.   I saw parents repeatedly set up the toys/pieces of the exhibit so that the child could play with them "appropriately".  I saw parents get frustrated when the child either didn't want to play with the object or (gasp), wanted to do something else with it.   I saw one family literally dragging their child from exhibit to exhibit, overhearing them say (as the child was perfectly content doing what they were doing) "Come on, we HAVE to get to the next thing".   Why?  Why do they "have to" move on?  Is it because they've paid admission (versus having a membership) and feel that they need to experience the whole darn museum before it closes?

Today was one of those reflective "I've gained some perspective" type experiences.  In sitting back to check my iPhone make notes for this blog post and observing the scene around me, I came to two conclusions that I'm pretty certain did not occur to me until just recently. 

1. If you let kids interact without parents constantly molding/directing the experience, they will create a world of play richer and more unique than that created by a grown up.
2. The parent that is checking their phone/reading a book/standing back a little* might actually be doing their child more good than the one that is down on their hands and knees directing their play.  *Of course, with very young children, the parent does need to be closer to retrieve things from mouths, assist new walkers etc.

One other observation I made.......( Mommy's Helper Kid Keeper ), a harness designed to be worn by the child and controlled by the parent. I must admit that I do cringe when I see a parent guiding the child like a dog in a space that is designed for children.  After we "lost" S for a few minutes at the Lilac Festival two years ago, I could definitely see the merits of them more than I could before.  Not enough to get one because I think it sends all kinds of messages that I'd rather not send, but I could see why people used them on small children in crowded places like festivals.   Using them at the Museum of Play however, not sure I'll be able to make that mental leap anytime soon. 

Hmm, I think that last paragraph is bordering on judgemental .  I'm sure there are valid reasons why people use them even if I don't agree with the practice.  If the Kid Keeper (or similar product) is your particular forte, would you share why you find it invaluable? 

What do you parents of young children allow themselves to sit back and let the child experience life or do they (we???) craft a very safe and sanitized world for them to "explore"?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The emotional side of weight loss

First the good news: since I had M in 2006, I've lost about 40 pounds.  Some of that came off easily, some I really had to fight for.  The "bad" news: the last 10-15 are a big fight and that's where I find myself now.

Weight loss has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.  It's played a big part in my happiness/unhappiness throughout and it continues to be a measurement of how I feel about myself.   I'm working against some pretty dominant genes, but I also know that I haven't always made the best choices for myself and while I'm on the right path (again), I often get annoyed with myself that I wasn't paying attention and let it get this far.

When J and I started dating, I was in pretty good shape.  But, as it often goes, I put on a lot of weight the longer we were together (more eating out, more watching movies on the couch etc).  When we got engaged in May of 2001, I knew I had to do something so I would be at my "best" for my wedding day.  So, I joined WW the first time and with the support of my best friend R, lost almost 30 pounds and was in the best shape of my life.  It seemed easier life was totally predictable, I wasn't cooking for anyone but myself and I had a BIG into the overpriced (but beautiful) dress.   And I did and I LOVED the way I felt.  Confident, every bride wants to feel. 

Then, May of 2003 hits and I have to take a medical leave from work and my life got totally unpredictable.  Adding to the stress was the limbo state we found ourselves in terms of where we were going to live.  For about 2 months, we weren't sure if we were a. staying in MA, b. moving to Kentucky or c. moving to Germany.  When the decision was made to move to Kentucky, it took the stress off but not the weight that I had gained.  In 2004, I got pregnant with S and it's been a roller coaster ever since. 

But, now, with the help of friends also doing WW and my new found love of running, I have begun anew and am pleased with the results so far.   It's definitely harder is slightly less predictable and I'm cooking for three other people, but I feel more in control and able to make choices.  I have a great support system of people that I can simply bitch to if I'm hungry and have no more food to eat that day.   I have the support of my husband who not only applauds the running, but is happy that I am taking active strides to NOT turn out like my mom has in terms of her health (which is poor, very poor).   It's helping our marriage, it's helping my health and best of all, it's helping my mental state.  It's showing my girls that a healthy body is a priority. 

Getting back to "wedding weight" (although maybe not wedding body since I have had two kids and things have "moved" :-)) is both a physical and mental goal for me.   I have friends who say "You look great" or "I can't see that you have to lose weight" and while I am grateful for their compliments, I know that it's all about self-perception.  I NEED to get to a place where I can look in the mirror and not see those 40 pounds-which I still do even though they aren't there.  I need to get back to a place where I feel confident in my appearance and comfortable in all of my clothes.  I need to get back to a place where I can look at someone with my version of an "ideal" body and feel like I've finally made it. 

Losing the weight is "easy".  It's the mind games that will get you every time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

King Sadim?

You know that story about King Midas...the one where everything he touched turned to gold?  Well, I'm having the exact opposite sort of morning...sort of a "everything I touch turns to shit" kind of experience.  Woke up at 4 this morning with a horrid headache after several terrible dreams.  Burned my eggs and my hand on the pan burning the eggs.  Dropped an entire cup of dry cream of wheat on the floor (stupid little granules everywhere) and a 1/4 cup of brown sugar on the floor not 10 seconds after I cleaned up the cream of wheat.   I'm ready for a do-over and it's not even 9:00.

The rest of the day can only get better to a play date this morning, ballet this afternoon and then M&S are spending the night at their grandparents.  And all day tomorrow.   If I spill something tomorrow morning, I can swear to my heart's content without having to worry about those words being repeated at an inopportune moment (like at said grandparent's house).

Midas=Sadim.  Backwards.  Like my morning.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Motherhood in America Changing But Still Faces Mixed Messages

Motherhood in America Changing But Still Faces Mixed Messages

1pm and my cup is 1/2 empty

For some reason, M&S are driving me nuts this week.  For the first time since school got out, I've actually started having moments where I look at the calendar and sigh...wondering how it is that there is still another MONTH left before school starts.  I've also had thoughts of moving back to Kentucky just so they can start earlier.  Okay, not really..there's not enough money in the world to get me back to Kentucky but the idea of school starting in a week is appealing.  :-)

I adore my children, I really do.  I love them so much that it often feels like there isn't enough room in my heart to contain all that I feel for them.  I want only the best for them and would give either of them a kidney (or other body part) if they needed it.  But.......

living with them these days is damned near impossible for many hours of the day.  They whine, they fight, they scream.  M cries CONSTANTLY and is super oversensitive to everything.  S is bossy and name calls.  Getting out the door to go anywhere is like assembling the troops for a full-fledged medieval battle.   They play so well together for stretches of time, but I find myself tense during that time because I know the next screaming/whining/crying outburst is only moments away.   My brain and nerves cannot handle it anymore.  I stay out of as many battles as I can, being a big believer that they need to work stuff out themselves, but the times I intervene, I do so because I can't stand it anymore.  

I tell them that every day I start out with a full cup of patience.  But that everytime they: don't listen, do the opposite of what I've said, make huge messes without cleaning up, waste, cry, plead, beg, whine, hit, name call, fight etc, that patience spills out drop by drop until we get to bed time and the cup is bone dry.  

I don't know if it's because the theme weeks have tapered off a bit (I was full steam ahead a few weeks ago and now I have plans with minimal desire to execute them) and they are bored.  I don't know if it's the monotony of being together all of the time or if they just need a change.   I don't know if I have changed and they are reacting to that.

Whatever it is, they're lucky that cup of patience refills every night while I sleep.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I'd rather be running?

I think it's safe to say that I am a runner now.  I can easily do three miles and am contemplating a 10k next spring.  I'm into the pace, the distance, the experience more than I ever thought was possible.  In fact, 6 years ago, we came to Rochester to visit my brother/sister in law and watched some family members run in a 5k.  I distinctly remember saying to J "Why the hell would anyone waste their time running" and now, here I am.  But,  instead of seeing it as a waste of time, I have found it to be a much needed release for me.  

I look forward to the times when I can run and really start to miss it when I don't.   It's when I can clear my mind, devise blog topics and hash them out without interruption,  have a break from the girls,  solve problems, feel good about myself and accomplish a goal.  Very few facets of my life allow me to do that and it's why it's come to mean so much to me.   And then there are the obvious health benefits...the muscle development, the changes in the shape of my body etc.  It's such a win-win for me.   Its' also become a social outlet of sorts, as it has given me common ground with some truly amazing women that I have known for a while, but never really had a chance to connect with.   Just discussing training, races or knowing that they are setting the pace for my own future goals makes it fun and has given us a springboard for other common interests. 

The other day, I was running around the track at the High School and had such a flood of memories and emotions.  Pretty sure the last time I ran on a track was in 1991 or 1992 when I was "on the track team" in high school.  Back then, the coach would tell us to go run 3 miles around town and each time, we would run up the street to my friend Kathleen's grandma's house and eat cookies/watch TV for the length of time we *thought* it might take us to run those 3 miles.   Not sure, but that might be why we rarely won a race and the only time we did win was a day when we gorged ourselves on junk food right before running. 

But, the other day, each lap brought a new memory and each lap brought a new sense of achievement and pride because I know that I never could have run 3.3 miles at 15, but here I was at 34, running like it was the most natural thing in the world.   I'm pretty sure I could have kicked that 15 year old's ass if she was running along side me.  :-)